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Using computational archaeology as a tourist

Hello dear followers, I have been quiet for so long I have almost forgotten how to blog. The reason for my absence is the fact that I went to two conferences during the month of June. The first was the Large Scale Scientific Computations(LSSC) conference that took place in Sozopol, Bulgaria (yes, I went to my home country). The second conference was the Conference on Evolutionary Computation (CEC) which took place in Cancun, Mexico. I will be leaving the stories about my travels and the academic side of things for another blog post. Today I want to tell you how I ended up using computational archaeology to find an awesome archaeological site in Cancun.

I went to Cancun with two of my colleagues and friends, Bennie and Filipe. While the boys were taking an afternoon nap after too much sun by the beach the day before, I decided to play around with Google maps and find some places for us to see. First I looked at the normal map view and read labels provided. I was already aware of a zone called “Zona Arqueologica”  (archaeological zone) located on the hotel strip, so I decided to search for it and see where exactly it is. After entering the name in the search I found it, labelled as “El Rey Zona Arqueologica“.  I then got curious and decided to look at the satellite image for this zone to see what Mayan ruins look like from above (something I was trying to determine on the plane while approaching the airport). The pictures below show this zone:

mapelrey ellreysatellite

As you can see above, the site is surrounded by a lot of vegetation and the excavated area is in the middle, quite easily visible. This is not to say that all excavated Mayan ruins look like this, but it was nice to have some form of guideline. This encouraged me to pursue a challenge: find more ruins in Cancun. To do this I started moving around the map while keeping it in satellite view and, to my surprise, not far from El Rey zona arqueologica I found this:

museum

That looks a lot like a pyramid, doesn’t it? I got very excited when I found this and told the boys that we must find out what that is. We were a bit confused about there being a pyramid so close by as there were many tours advertised to archaeological zones an hour+ away from Cancun, but none for any places in Cancun itself. I tried using Google maps to find an entrance to this area but found no such thing. We began calling it the mysterious pyramid and started thinking that we might not be able to find out what it is. I then noticed something odd, on the satellite image there was a large building which appeared to be partially in this park, while on Google street view the building was not there.

building

I showed this to my friend Bennie with the hope that he might be able to figure out what building that is as we had walked around that area the day before (and he was our directions man). Luckily Bennie noticed the fountain that we had sat by the day before and figured out that the large building is the Mayan Museum that we wanted to visit.

I am glad to say that a few days after we figured out where to go to see this mysterious pyramid, we visited the site and it did in fact turn out to have a Mayan pyramid and other Mayan ruins 😀

SAM_3790 SAM_3813

This post also shows us that sometimes certain technologies may fool us due to them being out of date. In this example Google street view was out of date in comparison to the satellite images, so the fact that we did not purely rely on street view and compared the images helped us find the site rather than give up.

Try use Google maps satellite view in your next trip to a foreign country and see if you can find some interesting mysterious places 😉 Feel free to comment and tell us about similar experiences.

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